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Youth join elderly to rebuild depleted Entarara Forest ecosystem

A section of youth from Kajiado County is leveraging technology in an effort to restore and conserve Entarara Forest.

The youth group made a decision to be part of a Community Forest Association (CFA) in the area formed with the primary goal of promoting ecosystem conservation activities.

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30-year-old Jackson Saruni has since been appointed the association’s Secretary. Prior to his entry, he said a majority of the members were elderly.

“In 2022, the CFA held a baraza, the meeting was between the World Wide Fund for Nature Kenya (WWF-Kenya) and the Kenya Forest Service, and this is when my interest in restoring Entarara peaked. I have always taken a keen interest in conserving the environment. It was a no-brainer at this point to join the CFA and take charge of my community’s future,” Saruni said.

Since he became part of the association, he disclosed that the group has since planted more than 5,000 trees. Their target, however, is to grow over 10,000 trees.

“80 per cent of the seedlings we planted have matured, but it wasn’t without hard work and dedication on our part. We are now seeing the benefits of our hard work as different species of monkeys and birds have come back into the forest,” he said.

Saruni indicated that during the prolonged drought that the country faced over the last couple of years, members were forced to water the seedlings, weed, and man the area to prevent livestock from invading it, as well as guard against destructive human activities.

Sharon Kilasho, 32 years old, is the CFA treasurer.  Echoing Saruni’s sentiments, she believes Entarara is well on its way to regaining its lost glory of being Kajiado’s food basket.

“Entarara was once the food basket of the county owing to the fact that we received ample rainfall. This however took a turn for the worse when people started cutting down trees and encroaching into the forest land. This ultimately led to the reduction of produce in the area,” she said.

Sharon Kilasho, Entarara CFA treasurer.

She, however, decried unpredictable rainfall, a phenomenon she claimed had slowed them from planting the number of trees they had intended as they could not survive the harsh climate.

“We decided to form an organized group that would help us take care of this resource together. Being a youth in leadership, we have the energy to keep up with technology and modern ways of even mobilizing the groups,” the treasurer avers.

“In our plans as a CFA, we plan on introducing other activities which include beekeeping, tree nurseries, and eco-tourism. To achieve the eco-tourism bit, youth like Saruni will play such a crucial role because they are the ones who will spearhead the marketing of the forest and attract tourists both locally and internationally,” she said.

To ensure locals plant and nurture the seedlings even within their homesteads, Kilasho says they have been making follow-ups. “This however isn’t a big challenge today as most people have really come to understand the importance of trees in the community and country as a whole.”

Speaking on the ongoing project within the Entarara Forest, WWF-Kenya’s Dr. John Kioko who is the Coordinator, Amboseli- the sub-landscape noted that the initiative is about bringing back the health of the forest.

“Currently, the forest due to encroachment is only 23 acres. It is one of the remnant tropical forests important for endemic plant species, birds, and primates. Today we have the Sykes’ monkeys which are an endangered species as well as the ground hornbills,” Kioko said.

To achieve this goal, Dr Kioko said communities are being empowered to take charge of the conservation.

Entarara Community Forest Association (CFA) members during a tree planting initiative

“In the last two years, we have enhanced the community’s capacity to manage the forest through the formation of the CFA. In addition, they are critical since they surround the area and help in enhancing protection.”

Dr Kioko said that the initiative also seeks to expand the forest by an additional 5km. He said all stakeholders involved are eager to achieve this, especially by having the community spearhead tree planting initiatives.

He said that the community is planting the trees through the agroforestry system, meaning the locals will grow the fruit trees and indigenous trees 5 km around their farms.

The restoration of Entarara Forest comes even as President William Ruto called on Kenyans to plant 100 million trees as part of the government’s goal to plant 15 billion trees in 10 years.

The renewed efforts reflect Kenya’s commitment to achieving the United Nations-recommended minimum of 10 per cent forest cover per country, a target enshrined in national law.

Despite falling short of the initial goal to surpass the 10 per cent mark by 2022 during former President Uhuru Kenyatta’s administration, the national forest cover has increased to 8.8 per cent from 5.9 per cent in 2018, according to the National Forest Resources Assessment (NFRA) report released in 2022.

The NFRA report also estimated Kenya’s overall tree cover, defined as tree patches outside designated forest areas exclusive of forest cover, at 12.1 per cent.

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